Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Snickers & "The Bus"

The other evening my Angela commented that she was worried about our cat Snickers. Several times she had caught him just suddenly falling over. We started watching him closer and, sure enough, there's something wrong with the little guy. After we both saw him suddenly flop on his side I looked into Angela's face and saw the same anguish I was feeling. We started talking about him. The funny and crazy experiences we'd had with him...walking him to the groomer strapped into a baby walker...Angela sleeping all night at the bottom of a tree that he was stuck in. In all of that there was strong, painful emotion. We didn't want to lose him, we castigated ourselves for not enjoying him more, and in the days that followed I found both of us deliberately spending more time with Snickers. The typical cuddling and petting that he loves took on a greater urgency as I was determined to appreciate him while we still had the time.

A few weeks ago I met James Lantz. He is a professor, a playwright, a father and a husband. He wrote a play called 'The Bus". It was received so well that he was invited to take it to an off Broadway theater in New York for a few months. "The Bus" is about two young men, their relationship, and the tragedy of social pressure on gay relationships. James decided that he wanted to also try to take the play to Topeka and perform it in close proximity to my family so he asked me to read the play and perhaps support his efforts. I read it and I wept.

Not long ago I came across an interesting article that explained the latest scientific discoveries about how the brain responds to ideas that are contrary to our existing beliefs. It seems that the emotion part of our brain responds more than a half second before the logic part kicks in. It seemed to support the idea that we are prone to find justification for a belief, and defend it for emotional reasons, before we will look unflinchingly at any evidence that challenges it.

What do these three different topics have in common? Well, I'm still trying to work that out. I know that all my life I have led with my emotions. I know that it is the things that I feel that cause me to make changes in my life. And it seems to me that it's something worth considering and pointing out on this topic of gay rights.

When James flew to Calgary to meet with me we spent several hours just talking, getting to know each other. He told me some of the things that motivated him to write "The Bus" and one of the issues he raised was this spate of suicides by gay people last year. I had the thought then that we spend so much time making cerebral arguments about the pros and cons of bringing ourselves out of the dark ages and finally treating another group of people in our society equally. But do we ever talk openly and publicly about the struggle to live life as a gay person? Do we consider the incredible effort and energy that the best of them must expend just to feel okay about themselves?

It's easy to get people's attention when five or six young people take their lives because they can't imagine continuing that battle. But what about the thousands and thousands who continue the fight, ever hopeful that one day, the world will get it: This is not an issue to vilify people over! There is zero evidence to suggest that we are threatened or harmed by this lifestyle, Yet we persist in scapegoating them and pointing to their differences as the cause of all our woes.

Something has to touch our hearts. Something has to stir our emotions and cause real, lasting change in the ideals that we embrace. Perhaps experiencing "The Bus" is one of those things. I spend my days asking this question over and over: What can I do to impact people and cause them to reconsider their prejudice toward the LGBT community?


I think it would be a positive response for James to bring this drama to Topeka and help that community combat the heart of hatred that beats there at my father's home and church. Think for a moment about a young child sitting alone, in the dark, in their room. They have encountered my family's message of divine hatred for who they are and they are afraid and hopeless. There are enough messages, both overt and subtle, in their lives to help reinforce the unthinkable, that they don't have a right to be who they are. Whatever it takes, pause for a moment and imagine that suffering. Now imagine what you can do to improve the heart and mind of that child. Imagine supporting James Lantz and "The Bus". Do something good while you still can.

Snickers just came over and rubbed himself against my black pants. Now I gotta get all the damn hair off...what a pain in the @#$! On the other hand, I think I'll stop here and spend a few minutes with him while I still can.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Duplicity of WBC

In a recent news story on CNN (http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/05/30/arlington.cemetery.protesters/index.html) my youngest sister Abigail made this comment regarding KKK members counter protesting their presence at Arlington National Cemetary: "People like them say it's white power...white supremacy. The Bible doesn't say anywhere that it's an abomination to be born of a certain gender or race."

From my perspective this is a study in deceit and duplicity.

First of all, my father taught us from infancy that the black race was cursed by god. This passage from Genesis 9 was his justification:

And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness.

And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be hisservant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

This passage was used by my father to demonstrate that the black race was cursed of god and justifiably enslaved.

Much is made of the fact that my father was a civil rights attorney in the late 60's and 70's. Surely someone who worked for the equality of blacks can't be so bad. Again, from an insiders point of view, this argument doesn't wash. While my father did a tremendous amount of good in defense of equality for blacks, this was not evidence of his real attitude toward them. In addition to his Bible based prejudice, he made no bones about how he really felt toward them when he was around his family. It was not uncommon at all for my father, as well as his children, to refer to black clients in his office as "DN"s (dumb niggers), even in their presences. His southern upbringing surely informed his practiced disdain for the black race, but no doubt it was bolstered and entrenched by his interpretation of the bible as well.

Abby also references gender in her comment. As I've often mentioned, my father made it crystal clear that women were second class citizens in the eyes of god. Women were to keep silent, they were to cover their heads in church and they were to keep their hair uncut. Women were to be in subjection to their husbands and husbands were entitled to, no, required to use whatever means necessary to bring them back into subjection if they strayed. My father demonstrated his eager willingness to obey that commandment over the years by physically beating his wife and, at one point, coarsely chopping off her hair when he found her submission lacking. Eve had been deceived by a snake and was therefore lower in the eyes of god and my father.

Lest someone inject here that they are not practicing true Christianity, I would point out that the Old Testament is replete with admonishments about the status of women and Paul gleefully reinforces the idea throughout his letters to the early church.

Let's take a moment to consider Abigail's words a little closer. Note that she doesn't come right out and say that blacks and women aren't inferior to white men. She asserts that the Bible stops short of calling them an abomination. It's subtle if you aren't paying attention, but makes a powerful difference in understanding the real teachings of Fred Phelps and the WBC. Homosexuality is an abomination, god is REALLY pissed at them. But there is a kinder, gentler prejudice that they reserve for colored brethren and the fairer sex. Fred's god will accept them, at least in theory, so long as they don't get to uppity and know their place in the divine hierarchy.

One final thought that is only tangentially relevant in that the topic came up in the article. A counter protester was quoted as saying "It's the soldier that fought and died and gave them that right to free speech". Perhaps someone can correct me if my logic is flawed, but this argument has always bothered me as a justification for outrage at their protests of military funerals. If we're arguing that the right to free speech is intact because of the sacrifices of these soldiers, then are we not obliged to step aside and let such protests happen unchallenged? Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not arguing in favor of protests at ANY funeral. I'm simply suggesting that this particular argument is not well conceived and should be dropped from the arsenal of counter protesters. Protesting at funerals is wrong for many reasons. I'm not sure that this is one of them.

Yes, my family hates homosexuals. In spite of Abby's words, they also hold women and blacks in similar low esteem. If they are going to insult the world with their hateful theology, I believe they have a duty to minimize the deceit and let the world see the unvarnished truth of just how profound and insidious that hate is.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Super, Natural Kamloops, British Columbia

I was reminded of the current marketing slogan for British Columbia as our plane descended into the Kamloops airport. As the Thompson River passed beneath, "Super, Natural British Columbia" seemed just about right.

The Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought held their first ever major conference this past weekend, entitled "Imagine No Religion". I was invited to speak at the conference and it was a remarkable experience. Bill Ligertwood and his wonderful group of volunteers went out of their way to make the event a great success.

I was honored to meet and spend time with fellow presenters PZ Myers, Brian (Mr. Deity) Dalton, Jen "Boobquake" McCreight, Christopher DiCarlo, Stuart Bechman, and Justin Trottier.

There were some great highlights, but to try to list them here would leave the wrong impression that I didn't learn something important from every one of the presentations. PZ opened and closed the conference with timid presentations on evolution and dead gods. Justin discussed the growth and direction of organized freethought, Jen challenged the movement to consider the benefits of including the wealth of information available from women and minorities, Chris offered tremendous insight into why we think and act the way we do, Stuart discussed the history and roots of modern scientific inquiry and Mr. Deity gave us much needed insight into the mind of Him whose ways are past finding out.

The crowd was, in short, amazing. One guest presented me with a beautiful, hand crafted, silver book marker. Another one gave me a provocative T-shirt from the Saskatoon Freethinkers and near the end of the conference Bill presented all the speakers with a bottle of "Blasted Church, Big Bang" wine from a nearby Okanagan winery. Don't think that didn't take some explaining at airport security.

As the director of the Centre for Inquiry in Calgary, I make much of the importance of creating social systems within our growing community...providing regular opportunities for those in the atheist/freethinker/skeptic community to connect and interact. As West Jet climbed homeward I reflected on how grateful I am to be involved in such a community. The immoral, deviant atheist that my father imagined is as much a figment of fevered mythology as the gods and demons of his blind faith. The people of Kamloops Centre for Rational Thought are as thoughtful, kind, caring and giving a people as you will find, and I am better for having met and interacted with them.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

This Is The World I Live In

I suppose it was inevitable that I would inadvertently "friend" people on Facebook who are allied with the ideology of my family. Louis Theroux's new documentary about my family was the impetus for just such a contact recently. Rather than describe it, I'll just republish the back and forth. Just to clarify, there is one other young lady, also a devout Christian, who challenges the original poster. To protect their anonymity, I'll call the original poster "Mary" and the other lady "Linda"

The thread starts with a link to the new documentary and this comment from "Mary". Spelling and punctuation have been preserved to provide whatever insight it may:

Mary:
THe WBC church reminds me of the way the christian church used to be in the past


Me:
Which past "Mary"? The Crusades, the Inquisition, The Salem Witch Trials? The truth is we have very little understanding of the Christian church in the past and we certainly don't have any evidence that this one version of one religion is the one path to the one god.


Mary:
THe bible is the same as today as yesterday if you do not live by the bible you will go to hell


At this point, I had just finished reading an excellent article by Chris Hitchens in Vanity Fair. The article, in part, addressed this very assertion.

Me:
Here's a link to a current article that puts the lie to that comment "Mary": http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2011/05/hitchens-201105

This is just a drop in the bucket. There are libraries of information out there that demonstrate conclusively that the bible has changed profoundly and deliberately throughout it's 1900 years of existence in some form or another.


Mary:
I do not believe in the stuff what comes from man kind I know it is a lie anytime you get to know the Humanist they turn out to be just like what the wbc church says about them the bible was written by god and it is the oldest book in the world


FACEPALM!

Linda:
but "Mary" you have to read it... and not trust fred phelps... He can lie as easy as any other man.... Nathan lived in that enviorment... he knows their doctrine...listen to him and then also read your bible and you can easily disprove any point the church makes


Mary:
I can tell that fred phelps knows the bible with out looking it up because i know the christian religion and if you like nate phelps then you are not a believer in the bible


Linda:
I do as well "Mary"... and their are many other christians that can do the same. I was in a class for spiritual formation at my christian college and we had a athiest in our class... and he could quote the scripture better than anyone since he had studied the bible over and over and over... Just because I like nate phelps doesnt mean I do not believe the bible.... In my class the athiest was converted after the class was over yet even if he was not... It is my duty as a christian to treat him kindly and set the SAME example christ would set not the example of satan

Mary:
I think nate phelps was just a rebellion


Linda:
maybe so.... every one has a right to their opinion... yet even as a athiest you are called to show him kindness and compassion because that is what christ call you to do... he doesnt call you to hate others he tells you to love your enemies and to feed them when they are hungry and to give them water when they thirst... he does not say bash them cuss them curse them.... like it or not KC NATE phelps was made in the image of GOD too.... hun... i can tell you have a wonderful heart and one that yearns for GOD... PLEASEPLEASE PLEAASE open the scriptures and find the real truth


Mary:
steve drain says that if you love your neighbor, you will point out were he is wrong to let him do what he wants to is like hating your neighbor,


Steve Drain...there's a wellspring of original thought.

Linda:
ok do you see how you are quoting other people and not the word of GOD... you are following man which makes them your idol... and you have a very jealous GOD.... the bible state yes you are to correct your neighbor but in doing so ---
Matthew 18:15 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.
did you see that./.... not word but GODS.... he tells us just the two of you... not picketing... calling someone out which is dishonoring... which is also talked about in the bible


Linda:
Proverbs 10:12 Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.


Linda: ‎
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.


Mary:
they are showing commpassion to others


Linda:
1 Corinthians 13:4-13 talks about love, what it is and what it is not. This forum is not just for those who believe in God and get into His Word, this applies to all who have been or are looking to fall in love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-13

4: Love is patient, love is kind. it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

5: It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

6: Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.

7: It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preserves.

8: Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.


Linda:
"Mary" is the church any of these when they picket????


Mary:
well for me it led me back to church i have been attending for 6 months


Linda:
my point is proven do not go by the word of steve drain go by the word of GOD "Mary"... look in cor for yourself what love is the apostle paul defines love clearly... or google love in the bible to pull up scripture.... it will take you straight there.


So I'm watching this back and forth between the two young ladies and my head is about to explode from all the assumptions and logical fallacies. I finally decide to speak my piece and walk away from this conversation. I ended with this:

Me:
First of all "Mary", of COURSE I rebelled. The fact that I'm not there is by definition rebellion. You have much to learn in life and chief among them is to question the meaning of words. One of the most powerful tools used by people like my father is words. You hear words like rebel and the immediate perception is bad. The important question when you hear that term is: what did they rebel against? Is rebellion a proper response in the circumstance? It's a non-starter for you to dismiss someone by labeling them rebellious. GO DEEPER!

As for "Linda's" point about rebuking, I would also urge you to read the process that Paul prescribes. Implicit in his words is the intuitive understanding that we all have in us that RELATIONSHIP is paramount in that process. Human's are tribal by their nature. Centuries of experience tell us to be slow to trust, to accept input only from those who are in a position of trustworthiness. It is utter nonsense for my family to suggest that they have the right to go around and blast total strangers, whom they know nothing about, over sins that they can only assume.

Don't ever let someone's superior knowledge of a subject be the justification for accepting everything they say. Historically, men with a far greater understanding of the words of the Bible have drawn conclusions diametrically opposed to the conclusions of my father. That reason alone should give you pause in just accepting his dogma because "fred phelps knows the bible".

Finally, you said that you 'do not believe in the stuff what comes from man kind". Do you hear yourself? Without any evidence to justify it, you have exalted the words of the WBC above "man kind". What are their words if not "stuff [coming] from man kind"? Is it because you assume they alone use the Bible for their words? If so, you have NO BUSINESS accepting a single thing they say until you have confirmed it INDEPENDENTLY for yourself, in the Bible. That DOES NOT mean asking them for the verses and blindly accepting their interpretation. It means you spending the necessary time studying it YOURSELF. Otherwise you are simply a parrot of another man's belief system.

Make no mistake "Mary", I could care less what conclusions you draw on this subject or any other. What I do care about PASSIONATELY is that every person take responsibility to learn how to think critically and never, EVER accept something as truth without researching it themselves. It is that standard that led me away from the black and white, indefensible, hateful dogma of my father. That's what I rebelled against and I carry the label of Rebel proudly.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Dissenting Opinion

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled today on the Snyder v. Phelps case. The 8 -1 majority opinion found that my family's pickets are protected speech under the First Amendment. I'm disappointed. The majority opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts explains that
Whether the First Amendment prohibits holding Westboro liable for its speech in this case turns largely on whether that speech is of public or private concern, as determined by all the circumstances of the case. "[S]peech on 'matters of public concern'...is 'at the heart of the First Amendment's protection.'" The First Amendment reflects "a profound national commitment to the principal that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open."

He further explains that
Deciding whether speech is of public or private concern requires us to examine the "'content, form, and context'" of that speech, "'as revealed by the whole record.'" As in other First Amendment cases, the court is obligated "to 'make an independent examination of the whole record' in order to make sure that 'the judgment does not constitute a forbidden intrusion on the field of free expression.'"

Ultimately the Court argues that the specific language of the signs:
While [they] may fall short of refined social or political commentary, the issues they highlight - the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens, the fate of oru Nation, homosexuality in the military, and scandals involving the Catholic clergy-are matters of public import.
As such, they are entitled to First Amendment protection.
Concerning Al Snyder's contention that the context of the speech - at his son's funeral - makes the speech a matter of private rather than public concern. The Court responds:
The fact that Westboro spoke in connection with a funeral, however, cannot by itself transform the nature of Westboro's speech. Westboro's signs...reflect the fact that the church finds much to condemn in modern society. Its speech is "fairly characterized as constituting speech on a matter of public concern," and the funeral setting does not alter that conclusion.

As I'm reading the opinion I keep thinking that something is missing. The Court has, in my opinion, made the same error as the Appellate Court before them. No serious consideration is given to the right of a person to bury a loved one in peace. Then I get to Justice Alito's diseenting opinion and there it is.

Justice Roberts makes much of the duty of the Court to consider "the whole record" in determining the nature of the speech and whether it concerns public matters. Buried in the body of his dissenting opinion Justice Alito sheds light on a critical aspect of the Court's thinking.

A part of my family's protest surrounding the death of Matthew Snyder was the online post they made a few days after picketing his funeral. The title of the post was "The Burden of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder. The Visit of Westboro Baptist Church to Help the Inhabitants of Maryland Connect the Dots!" In that nifty little outburst of inscribed drivel the language clearly abandoned "public issues", turning brutishly private and personal in nature:
God blessed you, Mr. and Mrs. Snyder, with a resource and his name was Matthew. He was an arrow in your quiver!...you raised him for the devil. Albert and Julie RIPPED that body apart and taught Matthew...to divorce, and to commit adultery...They also...taught Matthew to be an idolater.

How could the Court possibly rule that this language concerned a public issue? Well, as Justice Alito explains, they didn't bother. Footnote #15 explains:
The Court refuses to consider the epic because it was not discussed in Snyder's petition for certiorari.

A critical aspect of the case at both the District and Appellete Court level, and the Supreme Court excludes it on a technicality?!? Alito explains the error of that decision:
The epic, however, is not a distinct claim but a piece of evidence that the jury considered in imposing liability for the claims now before this Court. The protest and the epic are parts of a single course of conduct that the jury found to constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress. The epic cannot be divorced from the general context of the funeral protest. The Court's strange insistence that the epic "is not properly before us." means that the Court has not actually made "an independent examination of the whole record". And the Court's refusal to consider the epic contrasts sharply with its willingness to take notice of Westboro's protest activities at other times and locations.

It has been my contention all along that protesting at a funeral is unconscionable. For the Court to give greater consideration to Free Speech, at the expense of a citizen's right to bury a loved one in peace, is a dangerous travesty of justice.
Mr. Snyder's attorney argued that letting my family by with the hateful, personal attacks on vulnerable private citizens simply because they ALSO are expressing their ideas on public matters was bad law. From this language:
I fail to see why actionable speech should be immunized simply because it is interspersed with speech that is protected,
Alito clearly agrees.
I have argued before that the founding fathers likely never imagined the possibility that someone would ever think it was okay to picket the funeral of a private citizen. If ever there was a just reason to limit the time and place that a person can exercise their First Amendment right to free speech, this would be it. The Court sidesteps their responsibility on this point by suggesting
that the wounds inflicted by viciosu verbal assaults at funerals will be prevented or at least mitigated in the future by new laws that restrict picketing within a specified distance of a funeral.

Justice Alito points out that
The real significance of these new laws is not that they obviate the need for IIED protection. Rather, their enactment dramatically illustrates the fundamental point that funerals are unique events at which special protection against emotional assaults is in order. At funerals, the emotional well-being of bereaved relatives is particularly vulnerable. Exploitation of a funeral for the purpose of attracting public attention "intrud[es] upon their...grief, and may permanently stain their memories of the final moments before a loved one is laid to rest. Allowing family members to have a few hours of peace without harassment does not undremine public debate.

Well, at least he gets it. In my opinion, the Court dropped the ball today. It shows the inherent weakness in our system of justice when a critical barrier to the decision they wanted to render, the epic, is so easily shunted aside with a bit of judicial slight of hand. The Court had the opportunity to balance the free speech rights with another de facto right to mourn a death in respectful privacy.
Justice Roberts concludes the majority opinion with these thoughts:
Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and-as it did here-inflict great pain.

What he didn't say is that the majority of the Court today decided to ignore those tears and unnecessarily foist that pain on citizens in the future.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Love Is Wise, Hatred Is Foolish

In the later years of his life the British philosopher Bertrand Russell was asked: What would you think it’s worth telling future generations about the life you’ve lived and the lessons you’ve learned from it? His reply follows:

I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral. The intellectual thing I should want to say is this: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.
The moral thing I should wish to say...I should say love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world which is getting more closely and closely interconnected we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way and if we are to live together and not die together we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.


It has been my experience that hating is often a learned behavior that our brain justifies and protects. It takes a deliberate, conscious effort to challenge the assumptions and paradigms of our minds and weed out those that embrace hatred toward others. When I consider the words of Bertrand Russell I'm struck by a sense of urgency. Rather than talking about it, rather then hearing his words and nodding my head in agreement, I'm compelled to revisit my beliefs, challenge them again in this new light.

Hatred cannot be viewed as a benign irritation, but rather the enemy of our very existence. We must not only continue down the path of tolerance and love, but hurry along with renewed determination. Challenge ourselves, test our beliefs, ferret out the myths that bind us to our prejudices and exclusive thinking. But we can't leave it at the level of thought. We must translate those thoughts into actions and deeds. We must create social memes that shun the underlying ideologies of hatred. We must cease the foolishness.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

I received an email from a visitor to my website recently. The young man informed me that he had actually taken the opposite journey that I have in my life. He had been raised in a fairly non-religious home, but in his adult life had come to embrace Calvinism as the truth about God. We agreed to have a back and forth discussion, debate if you will, over this issue. Perhaps we could learn something from each other.

I sent my initial communication and, in due time, he responded with a lengthy discussion about his position. I was immediately struck by some of the language and tone of his thoughts and comments. That familiar flavor of profound distaste, visceral hatred for the "evil" elements in the world peppered his conversation. It demonstrated once again that to define the line between my father's natural inclination toward cruelty and hatred and the support for that way of thinking that comes from Calvinism, is no small challenge.

When I finished reading his material for the first time, I had the thought that I should write back to him and change the direction of our discussion immediately or we would devolve into an ineffective dialog pretty quickly. but then I went back and started reading it again. Soon I was immersed in challenging various arguments and assumptions. Hours later I sent him an extensive response. But there was a niggling doubt tucked in the back of my mind. It wasn't long before he wrote back, irritated that several of my early comments didn't seem to address the specific point he had raised. Fair enough.

I went back and reread his thoughts and my responses again. Soon it occurred to me that I should have acted on my initial instinct to begin with. So I wrote him back and apologized. Well, I'll just let you read my response to him, because it really gets to the point I wanted to make. I have made some changes to the actual content to protect his privacy and clarify my position better:

"...I was thinking about the comments you made in your last email. That several of my responses didn't make sense in context. I apologize. Let me try to explain so we have a better chance going forward.

As I was reading your initial arguments I found myself, again and again, thinking that your position only made sense if certain assumptions were made. From there I narrowed it down to realizing that I couldn't really accept the lions share of your position simply because it was based on the foundational assumption that the Bible is what it claims to be...the inerrant word of the Christian God. Many of the challenges I made encompass that issue. It would probably have been a much better idea for us to address the underlying assumptions first before we got into one interpretation of the Bible versus another.

I know that topic was addressed to some degree in your first salvo, but not nearly to the extent that it needs to be if we're to ever discover a common ground to debate. If you're interested, I would suggest that we address that question first. What evidence do you have that the Bible is the word of God, other then the Bible. Why should we base our notion of eternal consequences on this book?

Let me throw one more thought in here to give you more insight into my position. We hold certain beliefs within us about all sorts of things. The evidence for those beliefs are stronger in some cases and weaker in others. As well, in the context of our lives, the nature of the various beliefs are more important in some instances then others. We will never arrive at absolute certainty about all these various beliefs we hold, but I hold that the more important the belief ie, the more significance that belief has in the choices and actions we make in life, the closer we must come to having empirical justification for holding it. For example, if I believe that aliens are here on earth but don't really change the way I think or live to accommodate that belief, then it's really not that important that I pursue the "truth" of that belief to far. If I believe Bigfoot is possible, whether I can demonstrate it isn't too important since my belief doesn't extend beyond the thoughts in my head.

On the other hand, if I believe that aliens are here and they have certain plans that threaten my life, it is incumbent on me to pursue and settle the objective truth of that belief before I uproot my family and move to a cave in Montana. I'm sure you understand my argument.

Applying that idea to the question of God and theology, I can't make sense of accepting the "truth" of the Bible without overwhelming empirical evidence. After all, these issues tend to color every single aspect of our lives, both temporal and eternal. Especially in the case of my family, and the particular theology that they embrace. The same theology that you embrace.

This quote by Carl Sagen speaks to the heart of this issue: "What counts is not what sounds plausible, not what we would like to believe, not what one or two witnesses claim, but only what is supported by hard evidence rigorously and skeptically examined. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

The prevailing evidence for God, any God, doesn't even try to reach that threshold. It's not enough to say that certain things can't be known except by faith. It isn't sufficient to raise the Jobian argument that the pot can't question the potter. Especially in light of the fact that so much of the evidence in support of God DOES try to conform to reason and logic. Paul was one of the greatest rhetoriticians (if that's even a word) that ever lived. The very fact that every argument for God ultimately ends with an assertion like Martin Luther's, "My dear Erasmus, your thoughts of God are too human" proves that such a position is ultimately untenable. It begs the argument, if I'm incapable of comprehending God, then so are you.

So what we're left with is nothing more then yours or my "moral certainty" that we just know something is true. And that's fine, so long as we don't try to order our lives around such a weakly supported belief.


Suffice it to say that the more I contemplate these issues, the more certain I am that any dogmatic position in life is ultimately untenable and potentially dangerous. Believe what you will, but the more a belief informs your words and deeds, the more it should be held to the rigors of Sagen's tenet: Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.